Driving nearly three hours each way for a yearly mammogram was not on Linda Matthews’ agenda. “I hadn’t had one for over 10 years,” says the 63-year-old Matthews. “Why I decided to have it I don’t know. But I did, and they found cancer.”
That was two years ago. Matthews, a 13-year resident of the small town of Republic, Wash., stopped in at the Sacred Heart Women’s Health Center mammography coach when it visited the town’s hospital and offered women mammograms.
“If they hadn’t found the cancer it would have spread,” says Matthews. Because of early detection, she was able to have a lumpectomy and is doing well today.
“The coach staff performs over 2,500 mammograms each year,” says Brenda Hunter with the Sacred Heart Foundation. “The coach especially likes traveling to rural areas where women do not have the opportunity to have a mammogram,” she adds. Like a doctor’s office or hospital screening site, the coach accepts insurance.
On the outside the mammography coach looks like your typical camping RV. Inside the coach is lifesaving imaging equipment — equipment that is in need of updating. The Sacred Heart Foundation is trying to raise enough money to buy digital equipment to replace the film-based operation.
“Digital equipment is now the national standard for mammography,” says Women’s Health Center Director Sherry Maughan. Digital mammography offers a lower dose of radiation and earlier detection of cancer, particularly in younger women.
Digital equipment will also help reduce on-site set-up time. Right now workers have to recreate a darkroom for developing film each time they travel. Digital equipment will allow staff to begin performing mammograms just 15 minutes after the coach rolls to a stop.
“They can be more productive and help more people,” says Maughan. Currently 15 to 18 women can receive mammograms in one stop, but with digital equipment up to 25 mammograms could be done, with better accuracy. “It allows us to be as efficient as we can so we can continue to offer that service,” says Maughan.
It’s also difficult for radiologists to read film since it’s rarely used anymore. “Ours is the only film they are reading,” says Maughan.
“That skill diminishes.”
It’s not just the equipment that needs to be updated but the coach as well. “All that travel has taken a toll,” says Hunter.
Of course all this change doesn’t come cheap. Sacred Heart Foundation Director Joyce Cameron reports the foundation is getting close to raising the $1.2 million needed for the coach and equipment but would still like to collect about $200,000 more before ordering the specially designed coach.
“It does save lives and it is a very important issue,” says Matthews. “Women need to go.”
To find out more about the mammography coach or to make a donation, you can visit www.shmc.org or call 474-4917.